While the Commanders shored themselves up at several positions in the draft and free agency this season, the one area where they only appear to have gotten thinner is at linebacker. Given Washington’s LB packages last year, which overwhelmingly (94%) involved only one or two linebackers on the field at a time, it’s likely not as dire as some fans would make it. But, either as insurance to the two likely starters - Cole Holcomb and Jamin Davis - or as additional Buffalo nickel depth with the loss of Landon Collins, it would seem sensible to add another vet linebacker to the roster.
Washington Commanders’ LB Personnel Packages in 2021:— Josh Taylor (@JoshTaylorFB) May 10, 2022
(Total of 1,070 defensive snaps)
1 LB: 278 snaps (26%)
2 LBs: 724 snaps (68%)
3 LBs: 66 snaps (6%)#HTTC
Earlier in the offseason, I suggested taking a look at Jaylon Smith for the role. This week, the Rams cut Travin Howard to free up some salary cap space, and one of our resident posters suggested taking a flier on him.
Initially, it sounded like the Broncos might have some interest in him and grab him off waivers, but they didn’t, and as of late this week, he became a free agent. I did some digging on him, and I’m now intrigued.
Who is Travin Howard?
Howard was taken by the Rams in the 7th round of the 2018 draft, after having been a standout linebacker at TCU. In an interesting coincidence, he was originally selected with a Redskins’ pick traded to the Rams as part of a package that ultimately brought Sean Dion Hamilton and Trey Quinn to DC.
Safety/linebacker hybrid Travin Howard 6’ 1” 213 lbs. Wearing No. 32. Potential late-round prospect. First-team all-conference in 2017, 2016, honorable mention in 2015. Has 98 tackles, 7 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INTs, 1 TD, 5 PBU in 2017.https://t.co/qGA1rb4TD3— Brian Carriveau (@BrianCarriveau) December 29, 2017
Howard is an elite athlete, though was a little undersized to play LB in the NFL coming right out of college.
With the 231st pick in the #NFLDraft, the #Rams selected #TravinHoward.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 29, 2018
Howard posted an elite #RAS at both linebacker and safety, though he's probably too undersized to play the former full time. pic.twitter.com/8WcsLS9ToG
He spent 2018 on the Rams’ practice squad, and played almost exclusively as a special teamer for the Rams in 2019. He spent 2020 on IR with a knee injury (a torn meniscus), and was given a 1-year deal at the beginning of 2021. In 2021, Howard again played primarily as a special teamer, and injured his hamstring in early November.
After missing several weeks with injury, Howard returned in mid-December, just in time for the playoffs. Howard played in all four Rams’ playoff games, starting two at linebacker, and showed very well, securing a game winning interception against the 49ers.
Throughout the playoffs, he was one of the Rams’ top defenders:
Notable PFF Grades from @RamsNFL WC win:— J.B. Long (@JB_Long) January 18, 2022
Aaron Donald 90.9
Travin Howard 90.6^
Matthew Stafford 90.3*
Greg Gaines 87.0
David Edwards 80.5
Cooper Kupp 75.9
Terrell Burgess 75.3^
Joe Noteboom 74.6
Cam Akers 58.7~
*Best as a Ram
~Greatest 58.7 in PFF history pic.twitter.com/otAH5TPqwt
Notable PFF grades from (both) Rams win(s) over TB yesterday. Had to split into 2 groups. Defense first.— J.B. Long (@JB_Long) January 24, 2022
Von Miller 93.8*
Nick Scott 91.5^
Obo Okoronkwo 90.0~
Travin Howard 74.0
Eric Weddle 61 snaps
*Highest since his SB MVP performance
~2nd game this season of 90+ pic.twitter.com/QthRlGjEWI
Notable PFF grades from Rams NFC CG:— J.B. Long (@JB_Long) January 31, 2022
Rob Havenstein 90.1*
Cooper Kupp 84.3
Matthew Stafford 82.9
A'Shawn Robinson 79.1
Obo Okoronkwo 76.3
Austin Corbett 74.7
Travin Howard 73.3
Jalen Ramsey 73.0
Kendall Blanton 71.4 (61 snaps*)
Eric Weddle 91.0 run def
*Career high pic.twitter.com/gvm1Gk5CDC
After his impressive playoff performance, Howard was signed by the Rams to a 1-year deal worth $2.54M in early 2022.
However, with the signing of Bobby Wagner in late March, and several, additional large signings in recent weeks, Howard became a cap casualty.
Howard was solidly in the third position on the depth chart behind emerging second-year player Ernest Jones and the recently signed Bobby Wagner. Wagner figures to be an every-down linebacker in his first season in LA, but the team will want to get Jones on the field as much as possible.
Given Howard’s athleticism and build, he seems like he could be a solid fit for Washington’s Buffalo nickel position. He’s significantly heavier than both Kam Curl and Percy Butler, who are probably at the head of the line to assume that role if the season started right now. He’s also apparently a great tackler and strong in coverage, as well as an instant special teams contributor.
With a back-up linebacker like David Mayo getting paid $1M per year, would you offer Howard $2M, as a potential upgrade at the position, on a one or two year deal?
Would you like to see the Commanders pursue Travin Howard?
No, I’d like a different LB.
No, I don’t think we need anymore LBs.